• 8/10
    VIRTUAL SYMMETRY - Exoverse - 8/10


Independent release
Release date: June 30, 2020

User Review
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The story of progressive rock can be summarised as 5 years of increasingly bloated triumph, followed by a damn good thrashing with the bovver boy boots of punk. Some say they had it coming, others that the genre has been unfairly maligned as pompous and indulgent. What is certain, is that rehabilitation was off the mainstream agenda for years.

But prog didn’t die. It did what any self-respecting fad does when it’s no longer fashionable: it went underground and coiled its tendrils around other genres. Witness the strange explorations of the John Foxx-fronted Ultravox! Listen with wonder to Iron Maiden tearing up the metal rule book with their long-songs and awkward time signatures. Wallow in that bedsit in the corner of your mind where Thom Yorke croaks songs of paranoia and despair. Yup, prog never went away, it just got a hook into other music and hung on for dear life.

What, then, to make of a branch line of this style that had the good sense to wait for the arbiters of cool to give up before declaring its presence? Well, progressive metal, was probably always with us in one form or another. But it’s only in the last 25 years that it has emerged as a distinct sub genre. A techno-blazing amalgam of trad metal, fusion and prog rock, its current profile owes a great deal to Dream Theater, and before they emerged, Queensrÿche.

One current band operating at the forefront of this area is Italian 5-piece Virtual Symmetry. Their latest effort, “Exoverse”, is a good a guide to the essentials of the form as you’re likely to find. Tricky riffs and challenging solos, washed down with operatic vocals and “big” chord progressions.

Nowhere is this more evident than on album-opener “Entropia”. The synth-led introduction takes its own sweet time to resolve itself (it was ever thus in progressive circles), before blossoming into heavy-riffing and head-twisting rhythmic figures. Business as usual then, but despite the ornaments, there’s also a palpable feeling that this is a band that demands more than technical satisfaction.

Middle track Exodus is a case in point. Locking away the complex frippery that so bedevilled their forebears, Virtual Symmetry focus on producing a satisfying slice of pomp and melodrama. An emotional verse section ushers in a huge flag-waving chorus, and when the instruments are finally given space to work, it seems neither forced not inappropriate. In the same way, “Remember” showcases affecting orchestration, big solos, and a pleasing combination of organ and strings as the track wraps up in style.

What is most impressive is that the music pays due homage to the tropes of prog-metal without being limited by them. The opening riff to “Safe” sounds like something Van Halen might have written with its “brown sound” and heavy palm muting. Some great guitar and Mini Moog interplay finally dissolves into an astonishing piano piece that has all the sensitivity and grace of Rachmaninov.

Ironically it’s probably the album’s epic suite “Exoverse”  that is the most underwhelming track of the collection. Rather like a novel with interesting characters but an unengaging narrative, somehow the whole is less satisfying than the parts. And while the final section features all the requisite choirs and bombast, it’s difficult to banish the suspicion that it’s straining too hard to impress.

This is only a minor blemish on what is a creative and interesting listen for those ready to give it a chance. And if the endorsement of this humble organ fails to convince, then guest appearances by Dream Theater’s keysman Jordan Rudess and Evergrey’s Tom Englund might prove decisive.


  • Dan Whittle

    Daniel was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. He's been a music fan since his mother introduced him to the piano at the age of 5. That she introduced him is no real guide to whether he could play it, "as anyone who had the misfortune to hear my hamfisted plonking would readily testify," says Dan. Abandoning his nascent career as a pianist, he turned, instead, to listening to as many albums as he could lay his hands on. The first, halting steps, were of the novelty record variety; but gradually he found his niche. After a brief, abortive flirtation with indie, he heard Clutching at Straws by Marillion and that was it. These days his tastes are on the catholic side, but whiling away a few hours listening to ambitious guitar music (especially of the progressive variety) is still amongst his favorite activities.   Oh, and if anyone's wondering, he did learn the piano and the guitar in the end...

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